Chill Factor

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Acrylic on 10″ x 8″ Stretched Canvas

http://www.judicain.com/art/detail.php?artid=99476

I moved to Florida from Missouri in 1973 to escape the cold winters. We still have a little bit of winter in Gainesville but it doesn’t last long, so I hibernate on cold days and try to paint some sunshine but sometimes the cold creeps into my work. Last night when I started this painting my daughter Kathryn was at my apartment. “Pick a color.” I said to her. “Blue” was her answer.  So I filled the canvas with French Ultramarine Blue and Titanium White and snow began to flurry.

As I painted, I remembered walking in a fresh falling snow one winter night when I was still in high school. Huge fluffy snowflakes were dancing around the street lights in mad swirls, landing on my black gloves long enough to show me their delicate pattern before dissolving to dew drops. The energy of that moment is painted into and resides forever in this painting. It didn’t seem so cold that night. Just an absence of warm colors.

On the last day of school in 1972 I turned in my resignation to the principal of Coleman Elementary School where I was The Art Teacher for grades one through six.  My office was a utility closet I shared with the music teacher.   On my side of the closet were shelves for supplies and a cart with wheels  and on her side were shelves for music books and a piano on wheels.  When the cart and the piano were both in the closet there was no space for us. Each student got one hour of art each week and one hour of music each week in their classroom. Neither art nor music was important enough to have a room of its own.

I never intended to be a teacher. I just wanted to be an artist (whatever that was.) I didn’t know anyone who was an artist. I thought they all lived in New York or Paris. I read about them in the Avalon Career Books from the school library. The only artist I knew was Mr. Davis, my art teacher. I didn’t get to take art until eleventh grade. Art was only for Juniors and Seniors.  Just before graduation from high school, the counselor told me “Your parents can’t afford to send you to art school. Why not use your scholarship to State College. You can major in Art.” I didn’t know it was a Teacher’s College. Just before graduation the college guidance counselor told me “if you don’t sign up for Student Teaching, you won’t graduate.”

I wanted to be a good teacher. I wanted to give each student a chance to know the joy of making art. But the challenges of teaching were so encompassing that I didn’t get to make any art myself. I went to the State Teachers Meeting and wrote an art curriculum guide for Missouri Public Schools. The next year when the position of “Head of the Art Department” opened, the job was given to a first year teacher. I asked the Principal why I was not considered for the position since I had been teaching for seven years and had seniority over the other two teachers in the system.  This was the answer he gave me (and the reason I resigned forever from the teaching profession:) “We had to give the position to a man. You are young and will probably get pregnant soon and we need someone we can rely on for this job.”

II am so thankful that he said that!  If I had become head of the Art Department,  I would probably be a retired teacher today, living and freezing all through the long winter,  and may have never become a Real Artist!

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My Painting Process

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Day 7 of 30 Paintings in 30 Days Challenge

Acrylic on 10″ x 8″ Stretched Canvas

I belong to an artists’ cooperative gallery and Wednesday was my turn to work my shift. It takes about an hour to drive to Cedar Key from Gainesville, the gallery is open from 10:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. and with another hour to drive home I wondered  “How could I possibly get a painting done for the challenge?”

I packed an 8″ x 10″ canvas, a couple of brushes and a few tubes of paint so I could at least get a painting started. Once I got the gallery open, I set the little canvas on the counter and opened three tubes of paint. I choose the colors randomly with different reasons for each choice.  This time I wanted a dark and a light and a surprise color  I chose Light Red Ochre for the dark color. It could be described as brick red which makes a lovely dusty pink when mixed with white. For a light color I chose Toning Grey Pinkish  – a warm off-white.  And finally Yellow Ochre, an earthy organic yellow, for my Surprise.  The Surprise is often a color that at first doesn’t seem like it would work with the other colors and sometimes is added later in the painting process. But this time it called to me right away.

Just as I took the lids off the 3 tubes of paint, a group of browsers entered the gallery. At an earlier time in my life I would have put the paint away and felt frustrated that I couldn’t do what I had planned. Now I am learning to ask myself “What is the opportunity in this moment?” I asked them if they would like to see how I start a painting and they watched as I squeezed paint directly from the tubes onto the canvas; a few drops of red here and there, a puddle and some drips of white wherever they would fall and two little blobs of yellow. Next I took a brush about an inch in width and smeared the paint in random directions to cover the canvas, including the sides, watching the colors blend, swirl and interact with each other. The objective at this point is simply to cover the canvas with paint. If there is not enough paint to generously cover the canvas I grab a tube (without worrying about which one) and add a few more drops of paint.  This is the point when I start paying attention to feelings I have while moving the paint on the canvas. I was already getting the feeling of flowers. (The pinks that were forming were delicious!) But the feeling was not yet clearly defined.

The browsers were fascinated. They had never seen anyone paint without a palette before. I have found that most people who visit the gallery are either practicing artists who want to paint more, or confess that they “used to like to draw or paint but haven’t done it in years.” There are many people who say that they don’t have any talent and can’t make anything at all but these people don’t usually visit galleries unless they’re dragged in by someone in the other two groups. It turned out that one of the browsers, a gentleman in his sixties, was the one who used to paint. His wife tried to encourage him: “Look honey!  You can do that!”  Then she said to me “he’s too critical. Everything has to be just perfect or he won’t finish it.”

That was my cue!  How can anything be perfect if you don’t follow it to its finish?  And what defines perfection? And how does one know when something is finished?

I have my own answers which I am always eager to share. Perfection is a feeling I get when I use my senses to experience something. A perfect piece of music is one I experience through my sense of hearing, that stirs my heart and evokes such strong emotion that makes me feel that nothing more can be added – it is complete. The same would apply to looking at a painting, or a sculpture, reading a poem, watching a dance performance or eating a delicious casserole or touching the soft fur of a kitten. Perfection is always present, even when I am not conscious enough to experience it.  But I have also learned to sense that this man did not need to hear any more preaching. He needed to be reminded of the possibilities of his own creative experience. The process needed for each of us to overcome our blocked creativity can only be discovered on our own through practice. He only needed a catalyst. My advice to him, as to everyone, is Practice Every Day, no matter what. Making art every day is what is leading me to overcome my own unique obstacles and to discover my own unique style of expression.

With the entire canvas now completely covered in paint, I leaned the canvas against the wall and stood with the browsers to view it from a different perspective, turning it in all directions, listening to what it wanted to tell me. The painting invited me to discover images already forming, to explore movement and direction of the flow of the paint. I saw that the colors were so blended that it felt a little boring, not very inspiring, and called out for something daring. I responded by adding 3 more blobs of Light Red Ochre and used the big brush to change the shape of the blobs without too much blending.

“Flowers!” the browsers said in unison.  And my heart skipped a beat. There was still more to be done with this painting but the feeling of cooperation between me and the browsers was Perfection.  The man who used to paint looked different as he headed for the door. His eyes were sparking as he told me he was going to buy some canvasses and paints as soon as he got home and from now on, he was going to paint every day, no matter what.

When I got home that night, I finished the painting, adding some forest green for contrast, following the lines of the brush strokes to bring out the shapes of the flowers – they were already there – they just needed discovering!  I added a few spots of Cadmium Yellow Deep to what appeared to be stamens. I don’t know if such flowers exist anywhere in the world, but they do in this painting. It reached its own perfection at 10:35 p.m.

Promises, Promises

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“Sunburst” Acrylics and Colored Pencil on 11″ x 14″ Stretched Canvas. Day 6 of 30 Paintings in 30 Days.

I’m really trying to keep the promises I make to myself. I’m learning to treat myself the way I try to treat others.  I talk to myself with more kindness now.  I’m not so critical and I don’t berate myself like I used to.  Sometimes when I make promises,  my expectations are too high and I can’t keep the promise. I try to understand and have compassion for myself.

I promised that I would blog every day, in addition to painting 30 paintings in 30 days.  It is now 10:00 p.m, and I just posted my sixth painting in six days. I’m working my shift at the Cedar Keyhole Co-op Gallery tomorrow and I’m too tired to write. So I’m going to be kind to myself, give myself a big round of applause for finishing my painting and for writing this much and put myself to bed.

Little Leaps

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“Peace on the River”
Acrylics on 8″ x 10″ stretched, gallery-wrapped Canvas

I awoke this morning in a mild panic. This is Day 5 of the “30 Paintings in 30 Days Challenge!” I started a painting yesterday but my ego didn’t believe in it. How could I possibly complete a painting, write my blog, post to my web site and Etsy and still get take care of business? important business! Like getting the trash and recycles to the street before pickup time.

This is where I used to veer off track. Sometimes there was just so much to do that I knew I could never do it all. So I did nothing. Maybe take a nap. Watch TV. Or do those “important” things like taking out the trash. I was the Queen of Procrastinators. I had not learned how to start something without knowing the outcome. If there were too many unknowns I was afraid to start.

But now it’s different. One day, about 6 years ago, I decided that if it was important to brush my teeth every day, it was equally important to create every day. And like brushing my teeth, it has to come first. I don’t give myself a choice of whether I will paint or not. I must do it whether I want to or not. Whether I’m inspired or not. Whether I “have time” or not.

And I realized that what was really holding me back was a lack of faith. And I say that with an all-encompassing meaning. I mean faith in myself, faith in the creative process, faith in the flow of life, faith in the creative energy that flows through me from the Source, faith in my right and responsibility as a creation of the Ultimate Creator to create.

And still I encounter fear every day. Sometimes It’s almost paralyzing. If I’m working on a painting and there’s an area I especially like, I’m afraid I might ruin it if I add another brush stroke. If I’m working on a painting and there’s nothing about it that I like, I fear that I will never be able to make another beautiful painting so I want to quit before I embarrass myself. And of course there’s the BIG fear of facing a totally blank canvas. Being raised by Depression affected parents, I was taught from an early age to be careful not to waste anything. I must have been at least 12 years old before I was ever allowed to draw on a blank piece of unlined paper. We used both sides of our lined paper for all school subjects except spelling and I was allowed to draw on the back of my spelling paper. My classmates soon learned to give their spelling papers to me instead of throwing them into the trash. My desk was stuffed with half-empty pages, stored away for that perfect piece of art work that I would complete some day. (And that’s how I started to become an art supply hoarder – but that’s a story for another time.)

So this morning I faced my little paint-smeared canvas with a judgmental eye. My ego mind began to chatter.

“Well this looks nothing like the painting you did yesterday. What about consistency? No one will take you seriously if you keep jumping around like that with your subject matter.”

“Where’s the excitement? This painting is boring.”

And on and on it went until I picked up the brush and allowed the painting to tell me what to do. I don’t know how to explain this without encouraging you, every one, to try it. Painting is easy. The hard part is having faith that I know what looks good and I can follow the paint and the brush until my eye is pleased with what it sees. Nothing else matters. It doesn’t matter what my ego-mind says. It doesn’t matter what other people say. It’s not even the finished product that matters, rather the process – what I experienced while going through the process of painting it and how it makes me feel to look at it when it is done. That’s what matters. And the bonus is if someone else likes it too. I believe that every painting is created especially for someone. It’s so exciting to be present when that person meets up with their painting.

Welcome 2015 – New blog, new art, new me

I’m a little stubborn.  I don’t want to do something just because everyone else is doing it, or because it’s expected. So I refuse to make New Year’s Resolutions. Not publicly, anyway.  But I’m also a little superstitious. I feel guilty if I don’t eat black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day. Or write resolutions.  So I eat my black-eyed peas. And I make my resolutions but I do it secretly, only in my mind, never in writing so that anyone could find out and hold me to it or label me as conventional.  And I won’t start on the first day of January. I will wait a few days. Then no one will know that all the wonderful new things I’m doing are a result of Resolutions.

That’s what I was thinking on New Year’s Eve when I noticed a post on Facebook by an artist friend. I admire this artist because she is so disciplined about the business end of being an artist as well as her painting practice. The post was an announcement that she was participating in the Leslie Saeta “30 Paintings in 30 Days” Challenge.  There are almost 1000 artists from all over the world participating in this challenge.  Already I’m painting every day. But the challenge of completing a painting every day intrigues me.  Plus it’s a great way to keep a secret New Year’s Resolution. So count me in.

Today is the fourth day of the challenge. I have completed four paintings and posted them for the world to see. And since it’s also four days into the New Year, I can begin my second secret resolution: To write every day.  I mean write something from the heart – not just a recording of what I did the day before (which is what my daily  journal is.) So today after about 5 years of being creatively blocked as far as my writing goes, I begin my blog.

On a conscious level I know that the cure for being blocked is to write – the same as the cure for being blocked as a painter is to paint.  I sounds so simplistic.  Just write.  Just paint.
I don’t have to paint a masterpiece every day. I only have to paint every day. I don’t have have to write a best-selling book every day. I only have to write every day.

Day 4 of "30 Paintings in 30 Days" Challenge
Day 4 of “30 Paintings in 30 Days” Challenge

I worked on “Fire Dragon” for about a week. During this week I also completed five other paintings including the first 3 of the Challenge. I paint in my living room, sitting in a recliner chair where I can see completed and unfinished paintings on the walls or on the 2 easels opposite my chair. I can also listen to music or watch tv or chat with visitors without interrupting my work. I could paint in the second bedroom upstairs, but it’s lonely up there. That’s where I store blank canvasses and painting supplies that I don’t use as often. Everything else is within reach on a bookshelf next to my chair, organized in plastic drawers.

In future blogs I will write about the painting practice, how I discovered the process and suggestions for other blocked artists of all media to release their creative energy (with which I am convinced that everyone is born in equal measure)